Florida’s coral reef system is under immense stress as marine temperatures hit all-time highs. Beginning in July, the rising temperatures began to have devastating impacts on the reef system as they caused coral bleaching and coral death across the reef. High temperatures are predicted to persist through October, which will likely cause even more damage to the ecosystem.
(Florida Department of Environmental Protection)
Although most believe that corals are plants, National Geographic explains that they are animals who are considered colonial organisms because they live and grow intertwined with one another. Corals are sessile animals, meaning they do not move like other animals (they are rooted to the seafloor)– only moving their arms to catch food floating around them.
Corals are home to many different fish and other organisms. One such organism is the tiny algae organisms called zooxanthellae. The zooxanthellae give the corals the nutrients needed to construct the array of different colors in coral reef systems. During high-stress periods, the corals expel the zooxanthellae. Starving themselves of these nutrients, causing a bleaching event— where the corals lose their color, turning white and brown.
Bleaching is not an unusual event as it often occurs during regular rises in ocean temperature, usually in August; but for it to start in July is devastating to the ecosystem because the temperatures will only continue to get hotter. While a bleached coral is not a dead coral, as it can regain its former color and health, the healing process can only happen when it is not under high temperatures.
The longer the temperatures skyrocket, the more coral will die.
Many fish make coral reefs their homes, creating an extremely diverse environment. Without coral reefs, several marine animals would find themselves without shelter and food, triggering a possible decline in fish populations.
The ramifications of this crisis are not only confined to the ocean. Corals are essential to many industries, such as medicine and fishing. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “Many drugs are now being developed from coral reef animals and plants as possible cures for cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections, viruses, and other diseases… Approximately half of all federally managed fisheries depend on coral reefs and related habitats for a portion of their life cycles.” Furthermore, corals act as a natural buffer to protect shorelines against waves, floods, and coastal storms.
In an attempt to protect the reef system, two methods were put into practice. One is to protect the diversity of the reef system by collecting samples of different corals and storing them in gene banks. The second method is to move healthy corals; either to areas where there are dead or damaged corals so it can regrow. Or they are moved to deeper/cooler parts of the ocean. Some corals were also moved to facilities on land. Likely these methods will continue being used until after the heat spike is over.
The dire situation that Florida’s coral system faces serves as a stark reminder of the effects of climate change on our planet. Rising temperature poses a real threat to the coral reef systems all across the world and it is likely that the situation will only get worse with time.
How can you help?
Informing yourself is the most essential step in becoming an activist and fighting for what you believe is right. Along with these articles, feel free to check out the articles in the citation section of this article.
If you live in Florida, there are several ways to get involved in protecting Florida’s coral reef.
Consider donating to these organizations that protect and restore coral reefs
Extra steps you can take:
Joining Kids Fight Climate Change: If you want to make climate change news and information more accessible, you should consider joining us! Check out this link: Join the Team | Kids Fight Climate Change: Youth Climate Education. There are more opportunities than just writing, including designing, editing, speaking, and publishing.
Volunteering at advocacy groups: VolunteerMatch is a great resource to find volunteer opportunities, virtual and in-person. Check out this link: VolunteerMatch
If neither of those options applies to you, there are still ways to raise awareness! Simply by sharing articles such as this one, you are doing your part to spread important climate information. That is activism.
Allen, Greg. “Scientists Fight to Help Protect the Florida Coral That’s Dying from Heat.” NPR, July 28, 2023. https://www.npr.org/2023/07/28/1190824456/scientists-fight-to-help-protect-the-florida-coral-thats-dying-from-heat.
“Coral,” n.d. https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/coral/.
Dennis, Brady, Amudalat Ajasa, and Chris Mooney. “As Florida Ocean Temperatures Soar, a Race to Salvage Imperiled Corals.” Washington Post, July 27, 2023. https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2023/07/26/florida-coral-reef-ocean-temperatures-heat/?itid=lk_inline_manual_2.
Grandoni, Dino, and Allyson Chiu. “What’s Killing Florida’s Coral Reefs — and Why You Should Care.” Washington Post, August 10, 2023. https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/2023/08/09/florida-coral-bleaching-ocean-temperature/.
Rafferty, John P. “Coral Bleaching | Definition, Causes, Consequences, & Facts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, August 22, 2023. https://www.britannica.com/science/coral-bleaching.
“The Importance of Coral Reefs: Corals Tutorial,” n.d. https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/tutorial_corals/coral07_importance.html.